Polyhydramnios (Excessive Amniotic Fluid)

What is polyhydramnios?

Polyhydramnios, also known as hydramnios or amniotic fluid disorder, is a pregnancy complication in which there is an abnormal increase in the volume of amniotic fluid.

Common causes include gestational diabetes and anomalies that prevent the fetus from swallowing amniotic fluid.

Symptoms and complications of polyhydramnios include maternal breathing difficulties, preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes (PROM), unusual fetal presentation, umbilical cord prolapse, and postpartum hemorrhage.

If polyhydramnios is diagnosed early, many of the serious complications mentioned above may be avoided. Polyhydramnios can be treated prenatally with amnioreduction or drugs that reduce amniotic fluid volume. If it goes undiagnosed or is inadequately treated, it can lead to permanent conditions such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy (1).

what is polyhydramnios?

About amniotic fluid

Amniotic fluid is produced in a fetus’s kidneys, and it is expelled when a baby urinates while in utero. The baby then swallows some of the fluid. The rest remains in the womb, where it is useful for the following reasons:

  • Provides cushioning/protection for the growing infant
  • Allows the infant to move about in the womb, which helps with bone and muscle growth
  • Promotes lung development
  • Regulates temperature in the womb (2)

Causes of polyhydramnios

Polyhydramnios, an excess of amniotic fluid, occurs in about 1% of pregnancies. It is the opposite of oligohydramnios, a condition in which there is an insufficient level of amniotic fluid. Some of the most common causes of polyhydramnios are as follows:

  • Maternal diabetes: Diabetes, including gestational diabetes, can lead to amniotic fluid build up.
  • Congenital anomalies: There are certain genetic defects that prevent a baby from swallowing sufficient amounts of amniotic fluid.
  • Twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS): In some twin pregnancies, blood from one twin goes to the other. This can result in polyhydramnios and medical problems for both twins.
  • Incompatible blood types: When a mother has an Rh-negative blood type and a baby has Rh-positive blood, this can cause the baby to develop a type of anemia, which can, in turn, lead to polyhydramnios.
  • Fetal heart conditions: This could include a congenital defect, fetal arrhythmia, etc (3).

Associated complications and symptoms of polyhydramnios

Some of the most common complications and symptoms associated with polyhydramnios include:

Because polyhydramnios is often caused by gestational diabetes, it may also be associated with macrosomia (a condition in which the baby is large for gestational age).

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Diagnosis of polyhydramnios

Polyhydramnios can be diagnosed based on the appearance of an ultrasound. If medical professionals suspect polyhydramnios, they may also perform the following tests:

  • Amniocentesis: This is a way of sampling amniotic fluid to test for genetic conditions that may contribute to polyhydramnios.
  • Doppler ultrasound: This is a type of ultrasound that can take images of the fetus’s circulatory system.
  • Glucose challenge test: This test is for women with diabetes.
  • Non-stress test: This is a means of checking for abnormalities in the fetal heart rate (3).

Treatments and medical interventions for polyhydramnios

Mild cases of polyhydramnios may not require treatment, but doctors should have their patients come in for extra prenatal checkups to monitor the condition and make sure it does not become severe. Treatments for more severe forms of polyhydramnios sometimes focus on addressing the underlying cause(s). Additional treatments/interventions include:

  • Amnioreduction: This involves using a long needle to drain excess amniotic fluid from the uterus. There are certain risks associated with this, which doctors must weigh when deciding whether it is an appropriate intervention.
  • Medications to reduce the amount of fetal urine: This can put the fetus’s heart health at risk, so again, doctors must be careful in determining whether this is the right path. They must also carefully monitor the baby for signs of fetal distress.
  • Early induction
  • Bed rest: This can help delay preterm labor in cases of moderate polyhydramnios (3).

Long-term outcomes and legal help

If polyhydramnios is not promptly diagnosed and treated, it can lead to serious birth injuries and disabilities such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathycerebral palsy, and seizure disorders.

Birth injury is a difficult area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of the medical records. The award-winning attorneys at ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.) have decades of joint experience with these cases. To find out if you have a case, contact our firm to speak with one of our lawyers. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. We give personal attention to each child and family we help, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.

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Helpful resources

Hamza, A., Herr, D., Solomayer, E. F., & Meyberg-Solomayer, G. (2013). Polyhydramnios: causes, diagnosis and therapy. Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde73(12), 1241-1246.

2. Polyhydramnios: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 6, 2019, fromhttps://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003267.htm

3. Polyhydramnios: High Amniotic Fluid During Pregnancy. (2017, June 25). Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/polyhydramnios-high-amniotic-fluid/